stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Review – Solo Bass Looping Festival, Santa Cruz (Good Times)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“As a rainstorm raged outside the beautiful Art Deco walls of the old Rio Theatre there was quite a storm of another kind brewing on this venue’s new stage. Tuesday night’s world premiere ‘Bass Looping Festival’ was a great success story for hosts Rick Walker and Laurence Bedford. The avante garde event journeyed into the untapped areas that electronic musica can truly offer an audience. The concept of a ‘looping festival’ held the promise of musical expansion and also some risk into the unknown creating an exponentially, mind-expanding musical terrain.

Rick Walker was the couturier of the evening and shall remain so as the musical director of this new ongoing series, which will explore the underworlds of electronic music. Walker’s history and leadership of the seminal New Wave group Tao Chemical, Tao Rhythmical and the innovative World Fusion ensemble, Worlds Collide, proves he has always managed to be at the razor’s edge of inspiration and innovation.

Trey Donovan took the stage barefoot and gave a stellar performance on his Chapman Stick, often switching mid-song to add notes from his electric bass. The interface of the two sounds was rich and gratifying. Max Valentino came up next and played an extra large acoustic bass that looked like a large guitar rather than an upright bass. The sounds had a crisp resonance unlike the bassy bottom end sounds that emanate from a traditional bass. His third tune of the evening was “Sticks and Tones” (I love the title) which proved his refined ability to be a solo bassist. “Time is Rubber” had unflinching integrity and filled the hall with a stir of emotion.

A bassist who displayed a Buddhist approach to playing was Scott Kungha Drengsen. He played meditative drones with chordial cathedral-like melody lines. His usage of a foot-operated sequencer, coupled with his own version of special effects, created an ‘otherworldy collage’ with accents similar to Scott Lafaro’s slapping techniques. Drengsen is proficient on six-string fretless, five- and eight-stringed basses and six-string electric doublebass. He chose to incorporate multiple bass in his movie soundtrack-like performance.

Englishman Steve Lawson at last took center stage with the spirit of Jaco Pastrious woven into the tapestry of his technique and his grasp on the language of bass artistry. He brought forth the textures of a fuzzed-out Jimi Hendrix riff or seduced you down a jazzy cobblestone road in New Orleans with “Blue Moon.” His hypnotic trance jazz/blues crossover piece “Blue Sticks,” had a Zen-like quality to its melody lines. Next you found yourself “Drifting” to distant lands and uncharted looping terrains with this fine composition of experimental artistry. Lawson conjured a sense of time traveling, as he placed the e-bows on the lower strings, resulting in continual watery feedback loops of sound that evoked images of an aquatic world. Lawson’s candor in between songs were tongue-in-cheek, with its brilliantly dry delivery, in his lovely English accent.

The showstopper was a duet with Rick Walker playing his drum mallets upon the strings of Lawson’s bass, as Lawson played the upper strings on the bass’s fretboard. I wished that I had a recording of this moment.”

– Michele Benson

Tags:

Review – Vigroux/Cury/Lawson trio, Marvejols, France (Midi Libre)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

1 February 2002

“A weird, convincing trio”

“Caption: The audience allowed themselves to be carried along during an astonishing experimental performance, which was ultimately conclusive.”

“Last Saturday, the Regional Arts Development Association invited music lovers to come and hear a bold master class at the Théâtre de la Mauvaise Tête.

The performers were a guitar, bass and percussion trio composed of musicians with different backgrounds and inspirations, a trio characterised by its improvisational playing, each member being carried along as his inspiration took him, in response to the offerings of the others.

Franck Vigroux, highly focussed on his guitar, Steve Lawson, conjuring weird sounds from his bass, and Jérôme Cury, attacking a strange arsenal of percussion, gave an astonishing experimental performance for the audience from the music college and Marvejols music lovers. The three musicians, from diverse backgrounds (modern jazz, ambient and classical music) performed their pieces as “stories to tell”. The audience allowed themselves to be quietly carried along by their innovations and their musical risk-taking during the concert which, although weird, never became impenetrable.

The concert came at the end of a day which began when the trio met with students at the music college.”

Tags:

Review – And Nothing But The Bass (Bass Player Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“Compiled from various solo gigs, this CD boasts textures ranging from etheral to raucous, as Steve layers multiple loops and solos with the help of a Lexicon JamMan. The strictly live format allows an occasional wart, but there are many gems.”
– Ed Friedland, January 2001

Tags:

Review – And Nothing But The Bass (Jazz Dimensions)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“As we know, bassists always have to stand in the shadows of their fellow band members. The answer is to play a solo which is as meaningful as possible in concerts, or to record a whole solo album on which you show that you also know how to handle all the other instruments. But there is a more logical route, as is shown by Steve Lawson with his – literally – solo bass album.

The CD “and nothing but the bass” represents a document of Lawson’s live work as a soloist in London during the first half of 2000. Apart from one piece – “Bittersweet” – on which pianist and co-producer Jez Carr contributes a few notes in the studio, everything was recorded live in front of an audience and without overdubs. This all takes place in a peaceful atmosphere, almost reminiscent of chamber music. You will not find displays of power playing à la Stuart Hamm here.

Essentially these are duo pieces “in disguise”. With the aid of his loop sampler (Lexicon JamMan), Lawson plays duets with himself, plays around his own parts, and lays down tapped chord foundations under bass solos which are sometimes squeezed through a distortion unit. The great thing is that this approach never descends into guitar territory, even on the 6-string bass. A few mistakes have been left in the recording, as has the audience applause, but these could have been cut here and there.

On the last piece – “Pillow Mountain” – Lawson shows that, with a few electronic gizmos, even very “unbasslike” sounds can be produced. A wonderfully melancholic fretless solo is played over an underlying mood reminiscent of Brian Eno. Beautiful.”

Tags:

Review – And Nothing But The Bass (No Warning e-zine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“And nothing but the bass! No, don’t be afraid, you are not likely to get bored just because a single instrument takes the spotlight in this recording; in fact you will have the opportunity to discover a new world of sounds and colours conjured up by the intelligent use of the bass, which is perhaps too often written off as being unable to play an important role, except where it deals exclusively with rhythm. On the other hand, without going into the greats of the instrument in the fields of jazz and jazz rock, how can we forget the fundamental role played in rock by bassists such as Jack Bruce, Chris Squire, Mark King and Tony Levin? How can we ignore how many new horizons have been opened up by the courageous souls who have dared to abandon the “pedal” on the bass strings to venture in search of new possibilities on the high strings? What would Gentle Giant have been like with the bassist from AC/DC in the line-up? And the Clash with Stanley Clarke? But, without losing ourselves completely if “ifs” and “buts”, you get the picture that Steve Lawson is a bassist who belongs to that group of musicians who consider the bass to be an instrument capable of breaking new ground in its own right. His approach has been praised by colleagues of the calibre of Michael Manring and Danny Thompson.

Steve Lawson began his career as a solo performer when a London dance company commissioned him to write music for a contemporary dance performance which was subsequently held in a car park in central London. He then took part in the National Music Shows in 1997, 1998 and 1999 at the Wembley Conference Centre and held various clinics on the use of effects, MIDI and real-time sampling.

His approach is based on the creation of superimposed layers, preferring melodic bass lines onto which he grafts solo phrases rather than focusing solely on soundscaping: this method is apparent right from the opening The Inner Game, where Steve plays and layers a couple of lines which form the basis for the whole piece, then solos over the top. In Drifting, on the other hand, a beautiful arpeggio serves as the foundation for tricks with volume and delay, harmonics and solos which display a remarkable sense of melody. It is notable that in pieces such as Virtue Of The Small and The New Country, the melodies take on a pronounced Mediterranean feel, which is a real surprise from a British musician. If you are a fan of Jetlag/Passpartù-era Premiata Forneria Marconi* you will certainly appreciate these marvellous solar episodes. In Chance, Steve buries himself in soundscaping of indescribable sweetness, keeping melody always to the fore. In Blue Sticks he reshapes the famous tune Blue Moon in his own style. And what can be said of the beautiful Bittersweet, a trio for two basses and piano…if in Virtue Of The Small and The New Country Steve is able to conjure the landscapes of the Tyrrhenian coast and the smell of Sicilian orange trees, with Bittersweet the mind turns to rainy London afternoons, with grey clouds hanging over elegant Victorian buildings. Only a musician with great talent and sensitivity can provoke such emotions, giving us these 52 minutes of pathos from solo bass and effects. The disc closes with the minimalist picture of Pillow Mountain, a soft blanket of fine layers which Steve Lawson enriches with a few tastefully played notes. Recorded live, mainly during a performance at the Troubadour in Earl’s Court, London in December 1999, And Nothing But The Bass has already received favourable reviews from publications such as Global Bass Magazine, Cross Rhythms, Guitarist Magazine and Bass Frontiers. The album is available directly from the artist. To order it and to find news, images and free downloads, go to the website for Steve Lawson, and discover a musician about whom we will certainly be talking in the future.”

The Inner Game / Drifting / The Virtue Of The Small / The New Country / Chance / Bluesticks / Bittersweet / Pillow Mountain

Tags:

Review – Conversations (Loopers Delight)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“From the beginning of the first track’s languid fretless, grooving, melodicism it’s a feast of inventive looping. Hey, and it’s so lush and “pretty” that my wife doesn’t even ask me to “please turn it down” — which has got to be some kind of a first for a ‘”looping” CD.

Jez Carr’s spare, pointalistic pianisms are the perfect compliment for what Steve offers. Which is a combination of lyrical bass that reminds me of the best of a Mark Eagan or an Eberhard Weber, with some almost “Frisellian,” skittering loopsterizing weaving in and out from time to time.

Steve’s use of loops are integral, organic, and essential to the proceedings too. They inject a lot of humor into what might have been something more like a chilly, ECM record without them. Not that ECM is a bad thing. Some of my favorite music is on ECM. But most of you may know what I mean.

Examples: after establishing the first track with a loooose and laaaazy fretless groove Steve introduces twittering, backwards (and sped up) chipmunk bass noises in the middle so that it sounds like the duet has been visited (and joined) by a passing band of musical insects on a flyby.

The second starts right out with a rhythmic figure of looped bass harmonic “pops and clicks” that reminds me of either Copland’s “The Grand Canyon Suite” or the fellow with the coconuts who follows King Arthur around in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” In the middle of the same track, are some wonderfully “loopy” bass glissandi that sound for all the world like a theremin in a ’50s B-horror film (think faux spooky, haunted-house “ghost” sounds). Whacky huh?

This not to say that this isn’t serious music. It’s just that this duo seems to be continually reminding us that they are ALSO having fun and don’t take themselves TOO terribly seriously.

The 3rd track is a brief (1:12) sensitive piano solo . . . no bass, no loops. Just a short interlude of very pretty piano. But, it also underscores the true spontaneousness of the improvisations going on elsewhere on the disc, for these ARE improvisations in the truest sense. No studio editing “trickery.”

I could go on (and on) with each track but I think I’ve given a pretty good “gist” of what this disc is like. There aren’t any cut’s on this CD that are rollicking, uptempo, or show-offy — though they definitely “groove” an percolate at times. The overall mood is a pretty consistent one — of understated and sophisticated interplay — with superb instrumental chops and communication which often verges on the telepathic — with large doses of humor and grace.

Steve Lawson exhibits a very “organic” and creative use of live looping and real-time tweaking of effects that should be an example to any of us “loopfolk” . . . no matter what instrument we play. I can’t say enough to recommend his CD adequately. Just do yourself a favor and get it if you haven’t already.”

– Ted Killian

Tags:

Review – Conversations (No Warning e-zine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“A little less than a year ago we looked at the debut album by the talented London-based bassist Steve Lawson, a disc which afforded an amazing variety of perspectives from the instrument of a musician blessed with a keen melodic sense and an innate propensity to experiment. Now Steve has shifted focus, taking on a new challenge, together with pianist Jez Carr, based on a series of spontaneous improvisations which, as the two musicians assure us in the sleeve notes, have not been planned in any way, but were approached as a conversation (hence the album’s title).

And the resulting feeling of looseness is like that of a quiet chat over a coffee in which the most diverse subjects are addressed, wandering from one point to the next following a logical thread that only a dialogue can have. Barely murmured phrases, sounds that rise up to emphasise certain points, whispers and laughter, all skilfully evoked by Lawson’s mellow bass and Carr’s refined jazzy piano, which over the sixty-five minutes bear witness to a rare sensibility, together with an excellent training and a remarkable aptitude for more extreme challenges. How can we extrapolate from these outlines something that stands out against the rest when the whole is so close to perfection and when everything is so magically balanced, so beautifully ethereal?

A disc that reinforces the idea of improvised music as one of the highest musical forms, where the deepest secrets of the human heart surface, allowing a pure approach founded on the innocence of the listener and vulnerability of the musician to create an unrepeatable piece of magic, free from restrictions, expectations and preconceptions. Magnificent! Allow yourself to be involved in Conversations, which will free you from your mortal remains for a little more than an hour and let your mind contemplate the universe from a privileged viewpoint. You will not regret it. Available from Pillow Mountain Records. “

Tags:

Review – Conversations (Jazz Dimensions Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Review – Conversations (Jazz Dimensions Magazine)

“Is it jazz? Bassist Steve Lawson and pianist Jez Carr indulge in free improvisation on this CD at least: spontaneous and without any prior discussion. Geared to contemplation and harmony, this music does not impose itself aggressively on the listener. Attentive listening pays rewards – and reveals hidden jewels.

Steve Lawson, unusually for a bassist, is known primarily as a solo artist. He and Jez Carr have worked together for some time: Carr was the producer on Lawson’s debut “And nothing but the bass”; here he appears as pianist and duo partner to Lawson. The pieces collected on this CD were deliberately, and bravely, left as first takes, without any subsequent tweaking. It is probably for that reason that they are a little on the long side here and there.

Once again Lawson plays his six-string fretless, with which he covers the entire sonic spectrum and also produces sound effects from the world of electronica. His playing is lyrical, virtuoso and good for a surprise or two. At the same time, he allows his partner Jez Carr the necessary space, which Carr fills with sparing sounds and melodies that are sometimes reminiscent of Erik Satie.

The least important thing about this disc is probably stylistic classification. Call it jazz if you like, call it New Age or acoustic ambient music: it is simply great. Listen up!”

Tags:

Review – Conversations (Bass Guitar Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“The sleeve notes to Conversations suggest that the players had no charts, no tunes, no keys, or anything prepared before recording the project. After listening to the album I refused to believe that such melodic and graceful tunes could emerge from so sparse a formula, so a quick call to Mr Lawson was in order…

‘yeah, there were no rehearsals, no duscussion on keys, rhythms or vibes; just hit ‘reocrd’ and play. It was as spontaneous as it could possibly be!’

“Conversations captures all those moments in their glory. It’s far removed from the usual ‘free jazz’ type of fast improvisations with extended soloing or groove sections. Jez Carr is sparse with his lines, leaving Lawson room to explore the upper reaches of his Modulus Custom 6 string fretless. Two of the tracks exceed 14 minutes, and both are happy to heave lots of space during the tunes where the freedom to bounce ideas around never gets out of control. Conversations is extremely laid back conjuring images of dream like open spaces. IF you like your music free of constraints you’ll like the approach of Conversations.”
– Adrian Ashton

Tags:

Review – Not Dancing For Chicken (Bass Player Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

(from the ‘Bass Player Recommends’ section of the February 2003 issue)

“Armed with a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler and a Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro, solo bassist Steve Lawson craftily constructs each song’s texture by combining the standard color palette of bass sounds and techniques with the expanded technical palette of loops, layers, effects, and EBow electronic ‘bowing’. The marvelously musical result on Lawson’s second album, which tends toward a mellow, ambient vibe that sometimes recalls new age music and ’80s art-rock, has as much to do with Lawson’s melodic sense as it does to do with his technical mastery.”

(by Bill Leigh)

Tags: